Source: <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=ap-sprolesonaroll&prov=ap&type=lgns" target="_blank">Associated Press</a>
By Bernie Wilson
<a href="http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090107/capt.b7cf04d28c5741aaa477d235a4c56060.chargers_sproles_on_a_roll_football_la101.jpg"><img class="alignright" title="In this Jan. 3, 2009 file photo, San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles scores the winning touch down in overtime during an NFL AFC wild-card playoff football game in San Diego. Sproles isnt all that comfortable dealing with the media. But he figures its like carrying the ball _ the more he does it, the better he gets." src="http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090107/capt.b7cf04d28c5741aaa477d235a4c56060.chargers_sproles_on_a_roll_football_la101.jpg" alt="" width="181" height="174" /></a>SAN DIEGO (AP)-Words don't come nearly as easily as yards and touchdowns do for Darren Sproles, the exciting little running back for the San Diego Chargers.
Yet in the minutes and days after he helped carry the Bolts into the divisional round of the playoffs, there he was, facing wave after wave of reporters and cameramen and not backing down and inch.
Sproles stutters. Not as bad as he did when he emerged as a playmaker at Kansas State, but when the cameras turn on and he's asked to recount his exploits, the thought is there but sometimes the words aren't as quick to follow.
He'd just as soon have an angry, amped-up linebacker in his face as he would a microphone. But he figures it's like carrying the ball-the more he does it, the better he gets. As long as the Chargers stick around in the playoffs, Sproles is going to get his carries and receptions and punt and kickoff returns - and attention.
"I stutter sometimes," Sproles said. "I get nervous, then I really stutter a little bit. But it got better though. Like when I was in college, that's when it was kind of bad. But it's kind of getting better now, so it's fine."
As a rookie in 2005, Sproles was so shy of media attention that he'd literally scamper away when he'd see cameras.
Over time he decided that it was OK to stop and talk.
"I just want to do it, really, just to get better at doing it," said Sproles, who's been a spokesman for The Stuttering Foundation.
Sproles has had big games before, but he'd never gone to the interview room to face the media horde until after Saturday night's thrilling 23-17 overtime wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Sproles had plenty to talk about, particularly his winning 22-yard touchdown run and his 328 all-purpose yards, the third-most in an NFL playoff game.
"It was just one of those things I had to do it," Sproles said. "I just wanted to hurry up and get through it, but - You just have to work at it. Once you work at it then you get comfortable with it, you actually can do pretty good at it."
Sort of like what he's doing on the field. Known mostly for being a talented return specialist, he stepped up after LaDainian Tomlinson was forced out with a groin injury that could sideline him for Sunday's game at Pittsburgh. If Tomlinson can't go, it will be Sproles' first career start.
"Like the more reps you get, you feel more comfortable back there. More confident. You get like in a little rhythm," Sproles said.
"Eventually, I'm sure he'll get even more comfortable with it," said Sproles' agent, Gary Wichard. "I know Bill Walton overcame that years ago. Now you can't get him to shut up."
Walton, a star at UCLA in the 1970s and later in the NBA, couldn't speak without severely stuttering until he was 28. Now he's an NBA analyst for ESPN.
"I am a lifetime stutterer. I am so proud of and happy for Darren," Walton said in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Walton, who lives in San Diego, hasn't met Sproles. "But I sure enjoyed his heroics over the weekend," Walton said.
The speech impediment is just one hurdle Sproles has had to clear.
Sproles is listed as 5-foot-6, although Wichard said his client really is 5-5 1/2. Some people might think that's too small to be an every-down back in the NFL, but Sproles is deceptive.
Nicknamed "Tank" because he weighed 10 pounds when he was born, Sproles has added only 171 pounds to that small frame since then. Still, coach Norv Turner doesn't consider him small.
"He's a powerfully built guy and is one of the strongest guys on the team," Turner said. "Darren is short; there is nothing small about him."
If Sproles needs to lower his shoulder on a defender, he will. Otherwise, it's Sproles' slashing, make-â€˜em-miss style that allows him to survive in a game full of 300-pounders.
There are times when he appears to get pounded. "It's not really bad because they really don't get a clean shot on me all the time," he said. "It may look bad, but it ain't really bad."
Usually, defenders are too late. He has two straight 100-yard rushing games and has scored four touchdowns overall in the past two games.
"It's kind of hard to see Sproles," Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "He's one of those type of guys that once he sees an opening, he has that burst where he takes off fast. You have to maintain your gaps so he can't hit them as fast.
"It's hard to see him when he's right behind those linemen who are 6-5, 6-6, and he's shorter than them. You definitely can't see him," Woodley said.
There have been questions about how Sproles will hold up if he keeps touching the ball as much as he has been.
Houston Texans defensive tackle Travis Johnson, though, remembers Sproles outlifting he and Shawne Merriman as the three worked out prior to the 2005 draft.
Johnson said he bench-pressed 365 pounds two or three times. He remembers Merriman-the Chargers' linebacker who's on injured reserve-doing six repetitions and Sproles, 13.
"That was the craziest thing I've ever seen," Johnson said. "I was thinking, â€˜This guy's small.' I was in awe. It made me a believer. If he's 5 foot 9 1/2, he might have been the first pick in our draft. No questions asked."
Sproles will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and stands to make a lot of money.
"We would love to keep him here, and from what I understand he would like to stay here, so that certainly is a great beginning," general manager A.J. Smith said. If Sproles signs elsewhere, "We'd be extremely disappointed," Smith said.
Wichard, who said Sproles is simply doing what he did at Kansas State, last spoke with the Chargers in July and they decided to talk again after the season.
"It was kind of a year where I wanted to see what â€˜Tank' was," Wichard said. "Is he just a kick returner? Is he more than that that? Let's let him get defined. It's a lot easier to negotiate understanding who he is, and fortunately we've had this opportunity now."